Let’s start with something positive: the job market will get better. Even though we are bombarded with news of company collapses, massive layoffs, and talk of the unemployment rate hitting close to 8 percent in 2009, we should stay focused on the things we can control — which include things like upholding strong job performance, building a strong internal and external brand, and keeping a strong hold on the reality of your situation.
In any economy, no one’s job is safe, but in a weak and unstable economy, the concept of job security goes off the table. What can you do to prepare yourself for this type of work environment? Here are 10 steps to developing your job, career, and life survival plan.
- Don’t stick your head in the sand. While it’s a natural inclination to avoid — or hide from — bad or potentially bad news, you must stay alert to the signs that your company or your job (or both) are in trouble. Once you see the evidence stacking up, jump into action to protect yourself, your job, your marketability, your finances, and your family.
- Create or strengthen your distinctive niche/personal brand. Most of us — in normal times — don’t spend a lot of time on our careers. We’re so focused on doing our job to the best of our abilities that we sometimes lose sight on the importance of building and promoting our career brand. While your job is not in jeopardy, you should be taking advantage of your employer’s benefits to further your education, training, and certifications.
- Develop a career strategy — with multiple options. You always want options, but in a bad economy or when trying to safely jump from a dying organization, job-seekers need a strategy with multiple options… you need not only Plan A, but also Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D. Your main career goal should be your top option, such as another job in the same field.
- Stay connected with your network. If your industry is contracting and/or your employer is likely to announce a company-wide restructuring and downsizing, chances are most people in your network have already heard the rumors. Too often in times of trouble — when we should be reaching out to our network of friends and contacts for their assistance — we hide in shame or embarrassment. Bad things happen to all of us at one time or another. Swallow the bitter pill as quickly as possible and begin talking, phoning, and emailing all the people in your circle — from friends and family to former co-workers and bosses. Seek their advice and ask for information about people they know who may be hiring..
- Get organized at work, gathering contacts and resources. While it is certainly not time to panic — or cause panic — it is a good time to get things in order in case a downsizing occurs, and especially if it is one in which employees are told at the end of the business day to vacate the premises — and not return. Provide your information to others and agree to serve as references for them. If possible, request a copy of your personnel file “for your records.” If your employer is offering severance packages to people at your job level, you should read all the details — even if you are positive you want to stay with the employer.
- Prepare your finances by developing a conservative budget. One of the things that many downsized workers do is to keep spending at a level beyond their means — it’s kind of a way to protect their ego from the reality of the situation — which just makes matters worse when the bills arrive. Instead, prepare yourself ahead of time and start making adjustments to your budget now so that perhaps you’ll even have a cushion to fall back on if the layoffs become a reality.
- Make use of all your benefits before they disappear. While some employers may pay you for any unused vacation days if you’re laid off, many others will not — and none will pay you for unused personal days, comp time, or sick days. So, you might consider taking some time – ideally to find a job with a more stable employer. And if you have employer-based health benefits, now is the time to schedule that physical, eye exam, or dental appointment. While you can buy extended health coverage if you are terminated, expect the costs to be double or triple — or even higher — than what you had been paying. If you have unreimbursed expenses, submit those receipts as soon as possible. If your employer still has a professional development budget and you find a seminar, class, or certification that can improve your job performance (as well as make you more marketable when job-hunting), go for it.
- Put together a layoff plan. No one likes planning for bad scenarios, but it makes sense to be prepared for the worst. No matter how much you try to prepare for it, the shock of a layoff is traumatic — and you will not be able to think straight for quite some time. So, it’s best to develop a plan now, while you are thinking normally. Ideally, develop a one-, three-, and six-month plan to cover the time you may be unemployed. (In a really bad economy, you might want to also develop a one-year)
- Consider a survival job to pay the bills. Depending on the economy, your industry, and your profession, you may not be able to find a job at the same level as you had before the layoff. Never give up on finding that job (or one at a higher level), but there may come a time when you are close to exhausting your savings and other financial resources when you’ll be forced to make a decision about how long you can last without any job and how well you can handle a working in a job that you feel is beneath you but one that will help pay the most basic of bills.
- Find support from family and friends — and keep a positive outlook. Besides getting a good handle on your finances, the next most important thing you can do is seek the solace of family and friends (rather than hiding the news from them, which many laid off workers attempt to do). Family and friends can help mend your ego and emotions by providing the positive support you’ll need. If you are like most people, you’ll need to work out your feelings of anger, embarrassment, fear, and others that typically follow a layoff — and while some of that will need to be done on your own, the more people giving you positive reinforcement, the faster your recovery.
While you never know what to expect when your employer is struggling to survive in a weak economy, the chances that you might be downsized increase greatly — no matter what your job — and you can better prepare yourself for the worst possible outcome by developing a plan to assist you in getting through the situation. What’s the worst that could happen? You waste a few hours developing a plan you never have to use? That’s the best scenario!